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Internet of the Workplace | Past, Present, Future

May 11, 2022

From our Thought Leader Partner, Colliers.

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Internet of the Workplace tools can be streamlined to foster a safe, sustainable and inspirational environment for staff members returning to the office.

Business as usual in 2022 may be an ironic—even naïve—statement. For many corporations, getting back to business means that a safe and welcoming office environment is more important than ever. 

Part of that is how technology plays out following hits and misses over the past two years. While Internet of the Workplace (IoW) tools such as augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR) may be sexy, the reality is more prudent.

Our experts agree that IoW tools in line with company policy and implemented with support are critical to their successful rollout and usage.

Data for Smarter Premises Usage

Employees returning to the office expect a safe, secure and welcoming environment as a given.

Technology can play a big part in fostering well-being. Tangible solutions such as touch-free sensors to enter secured premises and meeting rooms that can be digitally booked are just a few of the IoW tools widely adopted as we emerge from Covid-19 restrictions. Further, technology can help track how, when and where spaces are used for better management.

“Our observations on the utilisation of space have shown that between 40 to 60% of a company’s premises are being used for collaborations,” says Chloe Teo, Head of Enterprise Clients for Singapore. “How easily do companies allow work from laptops anywhere in the office?”

For firms with non-dedicated workstations, apps allow staff members to book a desk or find colleagues in plug-and-play scenarios. “Gone are the days of rows of desks with shoes below them and photo frames on tables,” adds Chloe. “It is not a wise use of space.”

Enabling Spaces for Collaborations

Technology can further make virtual meetings more meaningful. Henry Chia, Director, Enterprise Clients for Asia Pacific, recounts a leading Fortune 500 technology firm employing augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) to design its head office in Sydney.

“But that is at the extreme end,” he notes, adding that AR and VR are still in their early days. “Companies need to consider the return on their investment and how the success of that tech can be measured. They must understand their work force and the setting required to carry out their work efficiently. For any new tech, they need to make sure employees buy in and know how to use it.” He advocates for a ‘change champion’ to ease staff members into the tech with one-to-one advice rather than anonymous training sessions.

Entrenched cultural traditions may contribute to how space is used. While cities such as Singapore have widely adopted non-dedicated desks, firms in Mainland Chinese and Taiwan may face resistance to bosses moving out of their corner office. As a result, dedicated workspace remains the norm while work from home is less common in the latter countries.

Companies… must understand their work force and the setting required to carry out their work efficiently. For any new tech, they need to make sure employees buy in and know how to use it.”

Henry Chia, Director, Enterprise Clients | Asia Pacific

“Japanese cultural perception is that if staff is in the office, they are doing work,” notes Henry. “Most staff members there stuck to working in the office throughout Covid-19. In comparison, Singapore’s culture is generally more set up for working from home and many opted for this option the past couple of years.”

The nature of the industry and individual jobs further weigh in—for example, an engineer in the tech industry may require a dedicated desk in the office to conduct sensitive work, while support functions such as HR and finance can work entirely from home. Older real estate inventory in established central business districts (CBDs) may not support technology such as raised flooring, yet most Fortune 500 companies prefer to be in the centre of town.

Security remains a major concern, as flexible access to company networks must be countered against cyber attacks.

Augmenting Digital Footprints

As information stored in data centers coupled with work from home scenarios increase, some companies’ digital footprint is overtaking their carbon footprint from lighting, heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) and equipment usage. Centers that rely on fossil fueled grids can be more vulnerable to energy disruptions if global supply chains are affected.

“From an environmental perspective and if engineered appropriately, the reliability of data centers fueled by a higher percentage of renewable energy will be more resilient and attractive going forward,” says Lisa Hinde, Head of Sustainability, Real Estate Management Services for Australia. “This supports the narrative of a low or zero carbon office.”

Further, ESG metrics have become the tool to unlock funds as companies vie for the title of greenest practice. “It is a clever way to drive change,” Lisa notes. All of these factors impact the type of technology companies choose to invest in or the initiatives they are pursuing from landlords as they renegotiate leases.

IoW tools will always be in a state of progress. Wrong or poorly implemented technology can be an albatross. In the end, the tech to support work should be balanced with a company’s efforts to instill a sense of belonging. Loyalty and community are still best built through face-to-face interactions.

“IoW tools allow us to connect easily but it is also lonely,” admits Chloe. “So many mental health issues stem from over-dependence on tech. Human beings are inherently social and interaction is important to both emotional and physical health.”

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